The professionalisation of free software

Free software begins, famously, with an itch – one person who wants something done, and decides to do it (“how hard can it be?” is the usual war-cry).

Typically, then, the beginnings of a free software project are singular. But equally, the further development of that project necessarily involves more than one person – indeed, much of the power of making the source code freely available flows from the fact that others can look at it and join together to improve it.

Successful projects often progress to the next stage, whereby some organisational structure is overlaid on the myriad coding efforts. This began when Linus started to appoint his “lieutenants” - other experienced coders that he could trust to “do the right thing”, and to whom he delegated the responsibility for running sub-systems of the overall Linux kernel.

The structures described above were among coders, and represent the creation of an organisational chart among them. What we have seen more recently is something rather different: the rise of professional managers who are not generally programmers, to oversee the day-to-day running and future development of the larger projects. The first instance was Mitchell Baker at the Mozilla Corporation in 2003, and Stormy Peters at the GNOME Foundation last year.

Now here's another free software organisation following their example: the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) itself is seeking an Executive Director:

FSFE was established in 2001 as a multi-cultural distributed organisation with volunteers and staff distributed across various European countries. Its approach is that of a result driven NGO with emphasis on constructive dialogue for lasting political and legal change. As an environment FSFE has grown out of the Free Software community and is ideally suited to motivated individuals capable of driving projects and initiatives forward.

It will be the responsibility of the Executive Director to coordinate FSFE's day-to-day affairs through working with a mixed team of volunteers and employees. Further responsibilities include management of the organisational assets according to the priorities set by the General Assembly and coordination of the Executive Council.

The job advertisement concludes with a hint:

If you are interested in the position, please direct your application to the FSFE Executive Council at council -- AT --, including a current CV and a letter of motivation. Please provide all information in Open Standards and do not send Microsoft Word documents.

But if you didn't know that already, then this probably isn't the job for you.

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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